Most NYC Restaurateurs Need Outdoor Dining to Survive Long-Term: Survey

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As the New York City Council considers the fate of the city’s outdoor dining program, the New York City Hospitality Alliance found that 91 percent of restaurants said its continuation would be very important to the survival of their businesses in the future.

Out of 726 restaurateurs surveyed, 95 percent told the trade group that outdoor dining was very important to the survival of their business over the past two years. In addition, eight in 10 restaurant owners believed they would have to lay off workers if the program isn’t preserved, and 92 percent said permanent outdoor dining would allow them to hire more staff in the future.

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“Outdoor dining was an absolute lifeline for restaurants and bars that were financially devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Andrew Rigie, executive director of the Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement. “Since its inception, the Open Restaurants Program has saved 100,000 industry jobs and thousands of small businesses from financial collapse, and an overwhelming majority of hospitality customers love it.”

Meanwhile, there may be changes coming to the outdoor dining regime. The director of the outdoor restaurants program at the New York City Department of Transportation, Julie Schipper, told the City Council Tuesday that the ubiquitous outdoor sheds on curbs and sidewalks may be eliminated under the new version of the program. 

“We don’t envision sheds in the permanent program, we’re not planning for that,” Schipper said during the Tuesday hearing, according to amNY. “What would be in the roadway is barriers and tents or umbrellas, but not these full houses that you’re seeing in the street.”

Over the course of the pandemic, DOT has removed 40 of the outdoor dining structures from city streets for being badly maintained or abandoned, and issued warnings to 4,292 restaurants regarding sidewalk shed rules. 

Restaurants will have to re-apply for the outdoor dining program in 2023, and DOT doesn’t plan to grandfather in existing structures, Schipper said during the hearing. 

Although outdoor dining has vocal opponents — particularly in Lower Manhattan — 89 percent of restaurant owners told the Hospitality Alliance that outdoor dining was “very popular” among customers.

Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at rbairdremba@commercialobserver.com.